Renewable Energy: After the Fair

By Drs. Robert &  Sonia Vogl
President and Vice President,
Illinois Renewable Energy Association

“This is such a great event! We’ll see you again next year.” The sentiment, voiced over the years, was heard many times this year at the 15th Annual Renewable Energy and Sustainable Lifestyle Fair.

People came from many places, primarily northern Illinois, but some from as far as Duluth, Minnesota; Chesterton, Indiana; and Lincoln, Nebraska. They were young and old, city and country dwellers, students, professors, engineers, farmers, and those simply interested. They were pleased to be there.

The 90 percent chance of thunderstorms and a clap of thunder at 5 a.m. Saturday morning made us wonder what might happen to the day. But the rainy, stormy weather didn’t dampen the enthusiasm of fairgoers. Sunday was a picture perfect summer day.

Many visitors come to hear speakers who are known as being the best of those at any such an event. Others return to reconnect with old friends and share updates on news and accomplishments. Reconnection is revitalizing.

Keynote and feature speakers provided an optimistic view of the future of renewable energy. Howard Learner, Executive Director of the Environmental Law and Policy Center, spoke on electricity game changers;  Kevin Brehm and Margaret McCall of the Rocky Mountain Institute spoke on utilities embracing community electricity and new energy tech in the Midwest.

Workshops, the backbone of the Fair, were organized into four major threads: policy, buildings and transportation, renewable energy, and food and gardening. Visitors could attend all sessions on the topics of their choice or pick and choose from the varied offerings. Themes varied from Illinois’ energy transition through backyard climate change in one thread, from building a low-cost tiny house through comparing the carbon footprint of electric to conventionally powered vehicles in a second, from the history of wind turbines through LED lighting innovation and controls in another, and vegetarian cooking made simple through hunting, butchering and preserving meat in the fourth. Hands-on mini craft workshops were also offered.

A new addition, Caring and Sharing, was well received. Books, vegetables and local seeds were exchanged at no cost to those who happily took them. Electric vehicles and solar cookers were exhibited and explained. Delicious, nutritious food included fresh picked local sweet corn donated by Rick Canfield.

Another new addition, a trip to Nachusa Grasslands to see the bison and new calves was a delightful success. We expect to offer more field trips next year.

Vendors met and informed visitors, answering their questions about renewable energy and sustainable lifestyles. Staff and volunteers did an heroic job of keeping everything running smoothly, from selling tickets at the gate through picking up refuse to answering the myriad questions at the office.

We were pleased to see Gabriela Martin, Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation Energy Program Director, who arrived with her children.

We’re already planning next year’s event, beginning with thanking those who gave so much at this year’s. Our purpose is to help people get information that they want or might want. We learn from each event and welcome feedback.

Major sponsors of the Fair were the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation, The Rock River Times, Northern Public Radio, the Ogle County Waste Management Department, and Midwest Energy News.

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